In the United States of (Divided) America, a protest march spearheaded by women (as well as men), clogged up the streets of Washington, New York and other cities. At the forefront walked the strong, vociferous, bold women who took to the streets shouting at Donald Trump, “Welcome to your first day! We will not go away!” Women were holding placards that read “Women’s rights are human rights”, “We shall overcomb”, “Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights”. The women channeled their outrage into peaceful protests, with telling, ingenious quotes.
In a democracy, human protests are linchpins for change, particularly where there is a seething discomfort with the establishment. Indians are known to protest. When there is something that doesn’t sit well with them, people are known to take to the streets, raise an alarm and voice dissent. Take the on-going pro-Jallikattu protests, for example. However, seldom has one seen nation-wide, women-led rallies that fight for empowering women.
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— Emily VanCamp France (@EmilyVanCampFR) January 22, 2017
In fact, marches for women’s rights, particularly in patriarchal societies like India, take place in spurts and are seldom accompanied by the support of men. If there is any support from men, they are in insignificant numbers. In the past, there have been small marches like the Pinjra Tod movement held by Delhi University’s female students, wherewomen opposed the curfew restrictions imposed on them by the University’s hostel; or the marches led by BLANK NOISE, a non-profit outfit based in Bengaluru that advocates women liberation and encourages them to walk on the streets alone. Interestingly, alongside the mass protests in the United States that took place to show collective dissonance against the new President, miles away in India, a brigade of women gathered to march for the #IWillGoOut campaign, to voice their need to reclaim public spaces. Women in India have often been restricted from walking on the streets alone, particularly at night. The #IWillGoOut campaign was launched to protest against this restriction and to exhbit anger against the large-scale sexual molestation incident in Bengaluru on December 31, 2016.
Sexual assaults on women are rampant in India. So rampant, that they tipped the scales to over 34,000 rape incidents in 2015, according to the National Crime Record Bureau. This number, however, reflected only the incidents which were reported. The overall number of incidents would be far more. Characteristic of patriarchal societies, it’s always the women who are held responsible for the violence inflected onto them. In fact, in the aftermath of the Bengaluru incident, the Karnataka Minister G. Parameshwara tried to normalise the incident by saying, “These things do happen”, while Samajwadi Party’s Abu Azmi said that women should always be chaperoned by men in their family. He went on to say, “It is wrong to expect [men] to treat [women] with respect…if there is sugar somewhere, ants will come.”
Of course, there was a great sense of outrage, dismay, disillusionment and disappointment, but while certain women-led groups did take to the streets to protest, it did not gather much momentum. And the fact is, if the issue is concerning women, it almost never does. The only time I can recall the country erupting into mass protests was in the 2012 gang rape incident, when a woman was physically assaulted and raped on the bus, and then dumped on the streets to die. The gruesomeness of the incident was so despicable that it forced people out of their homes to make a hue and cry about it. At that time, the protest seemed mammoth, unwavering, inimitable, powerful. At that time, it felt like it would go on to irreversibly change the situation in India when it comes to respecting women. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Four years have passed since the incident. And no change has taken place. Sexual assault on women and rape crimes continue to spike.
That’s the question being raised regarding the Women’s March as well: Alright, so you gathered in mass numbers and covered the streets in unison to protest against the new President. But, what now?
What will come out of it? Yes, you’re voicing your dissent and distaste for his policies that are unfavourable for women, but will it waver a self-interest-driven man who has an unapologetic, disconcerting view of women, to deter from his stance?
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